A Fire in Your Belly

Two weeks before my twentieth birthday I finished the credits for my diploma from the State University of New York at Binghamtom and headed straight for the altar with my high school sweetheart who was also studying art. She majored in welding.
My mentor in college, Aubrey Schwartz, had suggested that we contact our most revered living artist and study at his side. Abbey, as we called him, was a full professor at the St University and later became the chairman of the art department despite of his lack of a high school diploma. He was therefore the perfect person to affirm my inherent dislike of formal education. He is also one of the most well read and erodite people I have met.
He had been a collegue and friend to Leonard Baskin when they were young struggling artists in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Wth much insistence, persistance, cajoling and bravado I wangled an invitation to Northampton where Lenny was a honorary professor at Smith College.
My future child bride and I descended from the bus under the burden of duffle bags filled with our worldly possessions. They knew we meant business.

We were driven to the house and led into a room the likes of which we had never imagined. An Alibabas cave of treasures; paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings, oriental rugs, roman glass, English porcelain, antique scientific instuments in such a clutter that it was a suprise to discover a white skinned, white haired, wrinkled, ghostlike figure on the 1 8th century canape.

So, you’d like to come here and study with me?. Let me see what you’ve brought. Terrified we took out our. He flipped through mine and said, « Why,you cant draw at ail! » and forced me to agree with him.
« You will come here to live. We will help you find an apt, a car. You will do everything 1 say. You will learn to draw. »

When we returned to live in the region he gave me a murex venus. A rare sea shell with hundreds of thin spines in rows which crossed each other in syncopated rhythms. « Draw this exactly as it is », he ordered.
I drew that shell hundreds of times to scale, then enlarged it, then as an etching, then in bas relief.

At the end of six months Leonard said to me, « You truly have the fire in your belly. »

We had been living in a roach ridden factory sium on a dead end road which lead to the dump in Easthampton. After six months Leonard and Lisa announced that they were going to Devonshire England for a six month sabatical. After ten seconds of reflection and twenty four hours of courage building I presented myself for the position of caretaker/ house sitter and, miraculously, was accepted.

Off they avent to the airport and this twenty year old boy from Brooklyn was suddenly sleeping in an 1 8th century canopy bed. There was a Millay painting over the bed, a fifteenth century chinese chest by my side. A two foot high Miesen porcelain monkey contemlating an applestood at the foot of the bed.. There was a siege longue standing on guilded claves in front of the large bay window, outside of which stood a Japanese cucumber Magnolia tree, one of three in America. The leaves were large and exotic and as one lay reading, bright red cardinals would perch on its branches.

The wealth of experiences and opportunity for learning, for growing mentally,visually, artistically were fantastic, priceless. The single most important influence on me and my work were the American Impressionists. Twatchman, Murphy, Goodwin,and the mystics Blakelock and Rhyder. They painted one tree, a field, the sky. They are so simple, subtle, minimal. I would have missed them in a museum. It took months of seeing them everyday, morning noon and night until finally one fine day my eyes opened.

I had corne from the post sixties, post adolecent angst and that is what drewme to Baskin in the first place. Here was this great man, this powerful artist whose career was based on his experiences in WWII and the Holocost. Who created a series of Dead Men and Hanged Men yet surrounded himself with objects of delicate, subtle beauty. That is what I wanted to create. I decided that beauty was still a valid aesthetic and worth pursuing. I realised that in order to create works of art that depict the horrors of the human condition one must cultivate the dark side of oneself.

It is equally as difficult and meaningful to create powerful and profound work that is uplifting. I set my goal then and there. It was, and still is, unfashionable. I have bet my whole life on it.